A Year Later, Colorado Reflects On Flood Recovery Efforts

Oct 12, 2014

Permanent repairs are underway for the U.S. 34 bridge east of Greeley.
Credit Colorado United / Twitter

While construction and recovery efforts continue a year after Colorado’s epic 2013 flood, Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Recovery Office have released a report analyzing the progress made and lessons learned over everything from housing and infrastructure to environmental restoration efforts.

The study analyzes costs and successes, along with unused funds and plans for future recovery. The damage to roads, public utilities and future flood mitigation efforts cost $2 billion in repairs to date, with the initial efforts prioritizing basic services like water, access and electricity.

All damaged roads were opened by the Colorado Department of Transportation by December 1, 2013, much earlier than expected. U.S. Highway 36 east opened October 1 while U.S. 34 through Big Thompson Canyon opened at the end of November. Despite the progress, permanent road repair will continue for years.

Northern Colorado canyon roads connecting mountain communities to the Front Range demonstrate how the rushing water of rivers like the St. Vrain and Big Thompson led to vast amounts of erosion, landslides and the spread of debris. A federal and state study of watersheds included in the report revealed that 59 miles of stream required the removal of debris while another 81 miles needed stabilization. The study reported that watershed restoration efforts will likely continue for years to come with an estimated restoration cost of $100 million.

CDOT and the Department of Natural Resources worked side by side to save time and money by repairing roads in conjunction with watershed restoration.

The floods had a heavy impact on the state's oil and gas wells, hiking and biking trails, state parks and wildlife. Over 3,000 gas wells affected by flood damage were inspected within 45 days after the flood and by December 2013 all inspections were complete. The Department of Natural Resources [.pdf] led clean-up efforts from 50 of those drilling sites. Millions of dollars were spent on repairing the infrastructure at 26 state parks and recreation areas.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program provided temporary housing in hotels for 598 families. 23 families remained in hotels at the end of November and by mid-December the remaining families were located to more permanent housing. 21 families continued to reside in FEMA temporary housing as of September, 2014. Lyons in particular lost a vast amount of homes to the flood and rebuilding has been restricted in the flood prone areas of the town.

Of the $1.6 billion allocated to recovery efforts, about $600,000 still remain. Public assistance through FEMA and the repair of 485 miles of state highways make up the bulk of the overall budget with a combined allocation of $757 million. 31 percent of those funds remain unspent.